The Asia News Network notes with concern and alarm the arrest of Maria Ressa, executive editor and CEO of leading Philippine news site Rappler, for pursuing the truth in a case with significant ramifications for society.
Her arrest, on grounds that raise concern, violates the freedom that media organisations need to have, to play their part as a key pillar of functioning democracies. This is particularly important in Asia where systems of democratic representation, accountability and legal recourse are at various stages of nascent development, with much room for improvement and need for safeguarding.
We are seriously disturbed by the manner of her arrest and we urge the Philippine government to refrain from any form of intimidation against the media.
We note Rappler's statement that the warrant for her arrest dated February 12, 2019 was served close to 5pm on Feb 13, when courts were about to close.
We note that this is based on a complaint filed by a businessman five years after a story was published on Rappler's website in 2012. The complaint was dismissed by the country's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime Division in February, 2018 after finding that there was no basis to proceed, given that the one-year prescriptive period had lapsed.
We note that the case was revived eight days later and has now led to her arrest.
Rappler's story linked the businessman to murder, human trafficking and drug smuggling, which, we acknowledge, the businessman's lawyers said was wrong and defamatory. It also linked him to a senior judge of the country's top court.
These are serious charges that need to be examined and the truth ascertained.
Arresting a leading member of the journalistic community without any attempt to show that the allegations made in the article were false raises alarm and leaves us disturbed about the conditions under which members of our fraternity in the Philippines, must operate.
That the arrest follows charges of tax evasion against Rappler, which are still being investigated, is reason for further anguish. It inevitably raises serious questions about whether the charges are politically motivated.
As Asia's leading alliance of 23 news media, we urge President Rodrigo Duterte and his government to be fair and impartial in the treatment of media organisations in his country. The people of the Philippines, and the media that serves them, deserve no less.
The members of the Asia News Network are The Borneo Bulletin (Brunei), China Daily (China & Hong Kong), Dawn (Pakistan), Eleven Media Group (Myanmar), Go Go Mongolia (Mongolia), Kuensel (Bhutan), Philippine Daily Inquirer (The Philippines), Rasmei Kampuchea (Cambodia), Sin Chew Daily (Malaysia), The China Post (Taiwan), The Daily Star (Bangladesh), The Island (Sri Lanka), The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), The Kathmandu Post (Nepal), The Korea Herald (South Korea), The Nation (Thailand), The Phnom Penh Post (Cambodia) The Star (Malaysia), The Statesman (India), The Straits Times (Singapore), The Vientiane Times (Laos), Viet Nam News (Vietnam) Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News (Japan).